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TND – Hypocrisy Hits Home

May 16, 2012

All right y’all, I need to have a conversation (okay, monologue) about a distressing recent trend in food television. By which I mean I want to talk about the television which is more about gluttony and conspicuous over consumption than it is about food. There are lots of food shows I find boring (Sandwich King), or pointless (Chef vs. City), or repetitive (Diners, Drive-ins & Dives), but lately there have started to be shows that I find actively offensive.

Man vs. Food Nation (Travel Channel)
Heat Seekers (Food TV)
Around the World in 80 Plates (Bravo)

These are shows that aren’t about cooking, or about appreciating food, but instead are about celebrating excess. In Man vs. Food Nation the host travels the US finding and competing in local food challenges – eating a 72 oz steak in Nashville, slurping down more than 422 oysters in an hour in Mobile, partaking of a 5 lb omelet in Oahu. Or Heat Seekers, in which the two hosts travel around the US trying to find and eat the spiciest food. There’s nothing in particular wrong with that, both hosts are professed heat hounds, but the way they approach the food is as a hurdle to be overcome, not as something to savor or enjoy.

The show that really annoyed me, however, is the new show on Bravo, Around the World in 80 Plates. I was actually looking forward to this show and specifically set a recording for the first episode so that I wouldn’t miss it. Sadly it ended up disappointing me on two levels. Firstly, I was really uncomfortable with the glorification of gluttony that it demonstrated. And secondly, it made me have a lot less respect for the two chefs who are hosting the series.

The premise of the show is that 12 chef contestants will travel around the world sampling local cuisine and then trying to recreate and reinvent it for locals, best dish wins, worst dish nets the chef a ticket home. In the precise words of the show’s website:

In each episode, the contestants will travel to a different international city where they will learn the local customs, cultures, and cuisines as they participate in a gauntlet of culinary challenges.

Apparently, however, what they mean by ‘sample the local cuisine’ is ‘force it down as rapidly as possible ‘in a race against the other contestants for an ‘ingredient advantage’. In the first episode the chefs had to eat their way through plates of black pudding hash, fish & chips, steak & kidney pie, and drink their way through a variety of classic British pub quaffs (Pimms Cup, yard of ale, pint of Scrumpy) as fast as possible because whoever cleaned their plate first won.

To me there was nothing in that competition that suggested the chefs had learned anything about local customs, cultures or cuisines. They learned who could cram food in their mouth the fastest and who could do a keg stand, but if any of them learned anything about traditional (or reinvented) English pub food I’d be shocked. And, by extension, I’d be surprised if any viewers came away with any greater appreciation or understanding for British culture and food – and that is very clearly the other, albeit unstated, premise for the show. If they wanted to to highlight local cultures and cuisines, but still involve a challenge there were other ways they could have achieved this – send contestants on a hunt around London for specific ingredients, have them do blind taste tests of unfamiliar dishes and guess the ingredients (I’m pretty sure that none of those chefs had had black pudding hash before).

The show is co-hosted by Cat Cora and Curtis Stone. Now I don’t have much of an opinion about one way or another about Curtis Stone, although he’s always seemed like a decent person and is an advocate for healthier eating campaigns. Cat Cora, on the other hand, I have always really admired as a woman who has succeeded and thrived in a highly male dominated world and still seems to have a sense of humor. She’s also one of the chefs who went to New Orleans in the days after Katrina and opened kitchens on the street to feed people, and I have nothing but respect for those folks.

I find this show a particular jarring juxtaposition with the heavily promoted documentary, “Hunger Hits Home” which aired recently on the Food Network about the endemic problem of child hunger in the US. I know that Around the World in 80 Plates in on Bravo not The Food Network, but both Cat Cora and Curtis Stone have been very public advocates for ending child hunger and I find their hosting a show that celebrates and encourages such pointless excess disappointing, and sadly makes me think less of them as people. I wish there was some way to express my unease with what I saw in a way that would have an impact with the show’s creators, but I suspect the best I can do is not watch and donate to Share Our Strength, or some other similar charity.

(baked) Chicken Parmesan
Braised Garlic Bread
Green Beans
Salad

(baked) Chicken Parmesan

Recipe previously given: The Merits of Gloating

Braised Garlic Bread

Recipe previously given: 3 Weeks Ago . . . Or, Dear Food & Wine


Green Beans

Salad

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3 comments

  1. ::Puts on BMC hat to over-analyze and judge a show I haven’t even watched:: There’s also something unbelievable culturally imperialistic about the premise of sending Americans to foreign locations to “reinvent local cuisine” *for the locals*. I’d be OK with it if it was to bring it back home as a “fun twist on” X cuisine, or an “[insert culture]-inspired dish”. But if they’re doing it for the locals, it feels a little too much like, “Man, your food really sucked until we brought some Americans in to fix it for you. You can thank us later.”


    • I think they mean ‘reinvent’ in the sense of incorporate an element of fusion into whatever it is they’re making. So, the idea isn’t necessarily to recreate the exact dish with perfect faithfulness, but to pay homage to it while bringing in an element of their own background and sensibility.

      That being said, it very much embodied every ‘Americans abroad’ stereotype that makes you want to put a Canadian (or Dutch in my case) flag on your bag and ostentatiously distance yourself from those people over there.


  2. […] Night Dinner « TND – Hypocrisy Hits Home TND – Delayed Gratification May 18, […]



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